“I like criticism, but it must be my way.” Mark Twain
Criticism can be uncomfortable, unkind, and unfounded. As a result, unless they want to be the next Top Model or American Idol, most people avoid situations in which they are likely to be criticized.
Assuming that trainers are not masochists, there are many reasons why they may dislike and want to avoid having participants evaluate their training programs. After all, hours of work go into creating training program materials. Conducting a training program can be exhausting. Why add insult to injury by requesting participant feedback?
Unfortunately, participants are customarily asked to evaluate the training programs that they attend. Since trainers cannot avoid these program evaluations, they need some other way to protect themselves.
Trainers can give at least six rationalizations for ignoring participant evaluations:
Rationalization #1. The participants in training sessions don’t know what good training is, so their evaluations are essentially meaningless.
For goodness sakes, who is the trainer in the room, anyway? As long as the trainer is satisfied, it doesn’t really matter what the participants think.
Yet trainers who ignore participant feedback do so at their own peril. Training participants don’t need to know what constitutes great training. They just need to feel that they are walking away from the training with useful new knowledge or skills.
Why would any trainer want to continually subject participants to training that doesn’t meet their needs? The antidote to this rationalization is for trainers to respect the participants’ perspective.
Rationalization #2. It’s too hard to know what to do when some participants hate activities that other participants love.
Participants come to training programs with individual preferences and varying degrees of knowledge and experience. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln: You can satisfy all the participants some of the time, and some of the participants all the time, but you cannot satisfy all the participants all the time.
However, just because a training decision is difficult does not mean a decision can’t be made. If a learning activity is uncomfortable for some of the participants, the antidote to this rationalization is to modify the activity to make it more palatable or to replace it, if necessary.
Rationalization #3. Participants don’t really give much time or thought when they complete their evaluations.
Evaluations are typically conducted at the end of a training day, when participants are tired and anxious to leave. By the end of the day, it may be hard for the participants to remember what actually happened during the training session. As a result, their evaluation comments may be terse or nonexistent.
Training evaluation forms do not need to be long and complex. The antidote to this rationalization is to make the process of completing the evaluation form as quick and easy as possible.
Rationalization #4. Evaluations don’t measure what the participants learned, just what they felt about it.
There are many ways to evaluate learning during the course of a training program by having the participants perform tasks and complete activities using their new knowledge or skills. By the end of the session, both the trainer and the participants should know if learning has occurred.
“Smile sheets” still serve an important purpose. The antidote to this rationalization is to recognize that participants are more likely to remember and apply what they have learned if they have had a positive learning experience.
Rationalization #5. For consistency’s sake, once a training program has been developed, it should be sacrosanct.
Participant evaluations can ultimately generate a lot more training design and/or revision work for the trainer. Trainers may be forgiven their resistance to having a training program become a continual work in progress.
Consistency in training is admirable, but quality learning is essential. If program changes are necessary, then they must be made. The antidote to this rationalization is to recognize that the only thing sacrosanct about a training program should be its commitment to learning success.
Rationalization #6. Participants who are unhappy for reasons totally unrelated to the training program may take out their frustrations in the training evaluation.
A few unhappy participants may write highly negative comments about a training program. These evaluations can pummel a trainer’s ego and puncture a trainer’s sense of accomplishment. However, unless the comments show a consistent pattern of concern, it is probably best to disregard them.
The antidote to this rationalization is to discard the outlying evaluations (those that are either far more positive or far more negative than the majority of the participant responses). This approach will help to weed out unmerited criticisms.
Receiving participant criticism with grace and dignity can be difficult, no matter how much experience a trainer has. There is an element of truth to the six reasons that trainers use to rationalize ignoring participant evaluations. However, participant evaluations offer an invaluable gift: their comments and feedback will help trainers discover the best way to meet the participants’ needs and ensure an effective learning experience.
May your learning be sweet.